10/16-10/17 Roamin’ the Mediterranean Days Twelve and Thirteen: Roamin’ Rome and Comin’ Home

This morning the ship docked where this voyage began, in Civitavecchia, the port city of Rome. The ship was to remain docked in this port and we would go through the process of going home the following day. This day, however, was one of the major stops of the entire cruise, a sort of “going out with a bang” as we set forth into the historical city of Rome, the center of the Roman Empire.

Everything that I had seen thus far was all building up to this, this would be the peak of my adventure. All the Roman ruins in all the other cities had gotten me pumped to visit the center of it all, the massive empire that had spread far beyond even the huge ground that we covered on this cruise. This is where the origin of my name “Roman” came from. This was the moment I had waited my entire life for…

First off, as with all of the larger cities on this cruise, Rome is far too vast to even get close to experiencing it all in one day. I had felt I picked a good excursion to go on that claimed that we would be visiting the outside of the Coliseum, the Forum, the Trevi Fountain, then go to Vatican City to visit the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. I set this excursion up before the cruise even started, but later decided that I would rather go on a different excursion that was pretty similar, except it went inside the Coliseum and didn’t go to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums, but still went to St. Peter’s Basilica. Well, that excursion was booked so I ended up sticking with the one that I had. After all, at least I would get to hang out outside the Coliseum and get some nice pictures from the outside while I was visiting the Forum as well, right?

Wrong. My heart sank when I found out that all we would be doing is driving by the Coliseum and Forum, which was the thing I was looking forward to the most of the entire trip. Before I left for this cruise, the first thing I would always think about was walking below the massive structure of the Coliseum, imagining the gladiators and vast crowds showing up to watch their heroes in combat. Then imagining the Forum, the center the activity of the ancient Roman world, with all the robed senators walking around talking politics. I was crushed when all these childhood dreams flashed by in less than five minutes as the bus cruised on by. I couldn’t even get a good picture as I was on the wrong side of the bus, and there was a massive amount of construction on the side of the road, blocking my view of the Forum. We did get a nice view of the Circus Maximus off the bus though, which was the place where chariot races were held.

After driving around the city, cruising past several points of interest, we then got off the bus at the Trevi Fountain. I was bound and determined that the misleading Carnival excursion description wasn’t going to ruin my day. There were others on the bus upset that we didn’t stop at the Coliseum and Forum as well, but it didn’t matter to them as much as I, so I set off by myself with a map and a hope that I could make it down there and back in time. Our stop at the Trevi Fountain was pretty much so people could buy souvenirs, so I had about an hour and fifteen minutes to make it there and back.

The tour guide told me it was a thirty-minute walk each way, so barring any problems, I had an hour of walking and about fifteen minutes to see what I could, and try to not get left behind by the group. I decided to make up extra time by running part of the way so I could have more time outside the Coliseum and Forum. I had previously planned on spending this precious free time to go over to the Pantheon, the massive temple to all the Roman gods and goddesses, but decided to high tail it back down to the Coliseum and Forum since I missed them and they are right next to each other.

The thing I found out very quickly as I ran down the street is that there is no kind of grid structure whatsoever on the roads in Rome. As this road system is extremely old, it is all completely random and it is very easy to get lost. I found myself suddenly in a place where I had no idea where I was. I had gotten a good deal away from the Trevi Fountain, but nothing I was seeing around me was on the crappy map I was given by the tour guide (which had the places to shop that had paid to be placed on the map as “recommended” shops).

Roads forked every which way, up and down hills and through tunnels. I looked down at my cell phone and realized it had died, and I was using it to keep track of time so I had no idea how much time I had left. I then wandered around aimlessly until I could find some road name or building that I could find on my map so I would know where I was, because I had no idea which way was north or south.

I finally found out where I was at, and then looked at a clock to see what time it was. A wrong turn I had made had sent me well off track, and then I had essentially gone around in a partial circle instead of heading straight south to my destination. Because I was trying to hurry and running down streets, that actually ended up being my downfall in getting lost. I had 45 minutes left and decided to accept defeat and just go back to the Trevi Fountain, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get lost again trying to make it back up and didn’t want to get left behind.

I made my way back to the Trevi Fountain the way I should have gone to begin with. It only took me fifteen minutes to make it back, where it took me thirty to get down where I was. I was heartbroken that I had missed much of what I came to Rome for, but this entire cruise had gone so smoothly thus far that there had to be some turmoil somewhere. I just wished it had been somewhere else than Rome, though Athens would have been equally bad. This was equivalent to just passing by the Acropolis in Athens in less than five minutes, with construction obstructing the view. Fortunately at least I got to experience that.

I had seen so much on this entire trip, so looking back I probably shouldn’t have been as upset as I was. I was in a foul mood for sure though; upset at Carnival’s misleading description of the excursion and the fact that we just cruised by all this history so these people would have enough time to shop for cheesy souvenirs in Rome’s big touristy shopping district. I had come all the way here and now would have to go back to the US missing one of the main things I had come over here for. If I hadn’t already paid a huge amount for this tour and would have to pay more to get back to the ship, I would have just ditched the group right there and then and ran around the city on my own.

Going off on a tangent for a minute here, on the cruise ships they will tell you that they highly recommend taking the tours they offer rather than going on your own. Don’t get me wrong, they are convenient for sure and not much more expensive than getting your own transportation and tickets to attractions with less hassle. Though these are foreign countries that speak different languages, there are plenty of people that speak English, and most everything has English translations written along side the country’s particular language. They know plenty of tourists from America and the UK come there every day, so it is easy to communicate with most everyone.

My main beef with these excursions though, is that you are locked in to following a group around and are not given much freedom to explore. Included on several of these tours are stops at places that pay the tour companies to try and sell you stuff, for example: the carpet shop in Istanbul, the cameo factory at Pompeii, and this shopping district in Rome. I didn’t mind the carpet factory as much, but the cameo factory took away about 45 minutes we could have spent in Pompeii, and I missed most of what I wanted to see in Rome because of stopping at this shopping district of “recommended” shops. Some of my friends went on a tour to Mt. Etna in Sicily, and had all of ten minutes to see the volcano after a two-hour drive, so the tour could stop at a jewelry factory and try to sell jewelry to the tourists on the way back.

Anyway, the Trevi Fountain is an awesome site in itself other than the shops surrounding it. The Romans built aqueducts all over to carry water throughout the empire, and fountains would be built to mark the endpoint of the aqueduct. This massive fountain was built in the 1700s, but in this tradition it was built off the ancient Roman aqueduct Aqua Virgo. The Trevi Fountain is the largest fountain in Rome, and at its center is Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, riding a chariot.

The legend behind the Trevi Fountain is that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain, this will ensure your return to Rome before you die. Considering my present circumstances, this was perfect because I’m going to need all the help I can get trying to get back over to Rome one day to see everything I missed. I made my way down to the fountain and flipped the coin over my shoulder, and as it splashed in the water, hopefully, that sealed my prospects of returning to the “eternal city.”

As the group gathered back together we then headed back on the bus and drove around the city some more, though not by the Pantheon, which I was hoping we would at least do that. We then headed over to the restaurant for lunch. There we had lasagna again, but this was different than what we had in Florence. It had more noodles tightly packed and less cheese. Both lasagnas were good in their own way, and I can’t really decide which one I liked better.

From there we headed to Vatican City, the smallest independent nation in the world and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Here in Vatican City is the home of the Pope and the largest cathedral in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica. Our first stop would be the Vatican Museums, which contain one of the largest collections of art in the world collected by the Roman Catholic Church over the years.

The Vatican Museums are massive with several different rooms showcasing art from different periods. There is a major presence of art from the Renaissance period, with four rooms designed by Raphael, known as the Raphael Rooms. One of the major things that really surprised me inside the Vatican museum was the vast amount of pagan sculptures from ancient times. The tour guide told us that after the Renaissance, the church began to appreciate these sculptures for their artistic value and then placed them in the museum. One of the massive domed rooms filled with these sculptures was designed to look like the Pantheon, which was good since that was one of the things I had missed.

We twisted around through different massive hallways adorned with tapestries, maps, paintings, frescos, mosaics, and sculptures. This was an amazing experience that rivaled the artistic value of my Florence adventure the day before. The Renaissance was in full bloom in the Vatican, but of all the awesome things I had seen, nothing would prepare me for what came next: the Sistine Chapel.

As I was saying previously, the tour I wanted to go on that was all booked up would have given me the chance to go inside the Coliseum and the Forum, but the trade off would have been not going to these museums or the Sistine Chapel. As I walked through the Vatican Museums I started to feel a little better that I was able to see all of this fine art I would have missed on the other tour, but the Sistine Chapel definitely had me in better spirits.

Upon first setting foot in the Sistine Chapel, the first thing that came to mind strengthened my view that Michelangelo was truly a genius freak of nature. The sheer expanse and quality of art displayed in decorating this chapel’s ceiling is mind blowing. What makes it even more surreal is that Michelangelo did it in about four years all by himself, staring up at the ceiling on scaffolding with paint dripping in his face.

We sat in the chapel for a little while staring up at these massive frescos, with the most famous being “God Creates Adam,” the image of Adam leaning back with his finger almost, but not quite, touching God’s. Pictures are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, so I wasn’t able to snap any photos, but pictures would not even begin to capture the expanse of this massive accomplishment by Michelangelo, who didn’t even really want to do it in the first place, but was later persuaded.

Another huge project of Michelangelo was designing the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, where we would visit next. As I said previously, this is the largest cathedral in the world, and when I say large I mean LARGE. When you first step inside you feel like a dwarf because everything inside this basilica is huge and intimidating. To your right as you first walk in is Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” the most famous one of a few of these showing Mary holding Jesus after taking him down from the cross.

St. Peter’s Basilica is lavishly decorated with several huge sculptures and mosaics, and the expanse of it is mind blowing. Several Popes are entombed in this basilica, as the Pope lives just outside in another part of the Vatican. The Vatican is guarded by the Papal Swiss Guards, who dress in funny uniforms that look like jester suits.

There was a mass going on while we were in St. Peter’s and the smells of incense filled the cathedral. In the front of the cathedral is a massive outdoor area where only the Pope himself is allowed to give mass. Adorning the roof of the outside all around the basilica are sculptures of the saints.

Once back on the ship, this was the final night so we had to say goodbye to our waiters and room stewards. Over this amount of time you start to become friends with them, and mine were excellent. You have the same waiters and room steward throughout the whole trip, and the room steward makes little towel animals and leaves them in your room while you are at dinner.

The next morning the debarkation process was easy and efficient. For that many people to try to leave the ship at the same time it would be chaos, but Carnival has it set up where people leave according to what time their flight is to depart, so there are assigned numbers for leaving the ship. This would have normally been no problem, except for the rest of my group didn’t hear our number called and I was standing down waiting on them, with everyone else, to get on our bus to the airport.

The flight over was long, but without any complications. The flight back was ridiculous. Because most of the ship was from Canada, we were flying back on Air Canada because Carnival booked us on the flight. This line was a mile long and it took forever to even check our bags. There were several people with flights connecting out of Atlanta, which would have been the logical place for us to fly to get back to Chattanooga, but nooooooo our connection was in Toronto, Canada, to fly back to Atlanta.

I was pretty ticked at the fact Carnival did that to us to begin with, but they only gave us an hour and a half to our connecting flight to Atlanta. And guess what? Our flight was delayed an hour to Toronto so we missed our connection. We had to sit and wait another three hours before finally flying back to Atlanta, before having to drive two hours back to Chattanooga. Needless to say we were exhausted after that.

Next time I do a cruise, I'm booking my own flight, because Carnival totally screwed us over on that since our price was locked. I kind of have a beef with the excursions they offer as well, and next time I think I will mostly set out on my own. In hindsight, there were a few places that I would have rather just explored on my own. I could have taken a train from Civitavecchia to Rome and back, and most of what I wanted to see was right there bunched up together within walking distance. I would have been better off on my own in Istanbul as well, as I missed a bunch of stuff I wanted to see and was stuck waiting around on pokey people in my group. Not doing an excursion in Sicily was a good idea, and I’m glad that we just did our own thing. Even though there were a few mishaps, it was a lot funner to have the freedom to do what you want and the mishaps are a part of the adventure.

This was an amazing trip. I would definitely like to do another cruise in the future, but the problem is, though you get to see a bunch of stuff, you have to rush through it. Don’t get me wrong, I like cruises and they are very convenient, but to really get out there and deeply explore you really need to go at it on your own. Basically in the few hours you have at each port on a cruise, you have just enough time to hit up the touristy parts and head back to the ship. To get a broad overview of the highlights of several areas compacted in a short amount of time, with no travel headaches and staying in a nice room while moving through the sea, plus free food, cruises are definitely the way to go though.

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